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Annual School Report Cards in Newspapers

Susan Notes: Here's your chance to participate in and aid research.

Dear colleague in education,

Yesterday's Houston Chronicle (Sunday, April 3, 2005) printed a special section on the 2004 Annual School Report Card for the greater Houston area schools. I am working on a project where I am hoping to collect entire newspaper sections where annual school report cards are printed. My aim is to analyze the text for terms used to describe the school ratings, the advertisement space in relation to school ratings and the majority advertisement sponsor. Is there a pattern with regard to the type of advertisement sponsors in such reports? Do the advertisements specifically make mention of school ratings or schools? Are the advertisements carefully placed to derive maximum value vis--vis the school ratings? Are the visual presentations found in advertisements related to the notion of schooling? How do advertisements by home builders that mention specific school districts relate to districts' ratings and home values in the school districts?

I have just begun this project, if you have a newspaper or complete portions of a US newspaper of relevant sections with the area's school report cards/school ratings/results of state/national school achievement data by school district, school, or grade level, please email me with the newspaper name, date, city of publication at tganesh@uh.edu. I would like to receive (at the US mail address below) a copy of such newsprint for a research project. I hope to have enough samples from newspapers across the nation for the 2005-06 school year to conduct a research project on this issue. Please share this message with your colleagues and friends around the country! I need your help in collecting relevant newspaper editions.

Please feel free to share other ideas for a critical analysis of such newsprint material.

Below, I share a brief summary of my findings from the Sunday, April 3, 2005, Houston Chronicle section on School Report Cards.

Best regards,

Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Instructional Technology
University of Houston
College of Education, Curriculum & Instruction
256 Farish Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5027
Ph: 713.743.0574
Email: tganesh@uh.edu


Sunday, April 03, 2005

Today's Houston Chronicle included a 34 page section (8,976 square inches of newsprint) devoted to the "2004 Annual School Ratings" under the banner "REPORT CARD."

This newspaper specifically mentions the phrase "high stakes" and makes it personal by appealing to the reader "your child." (See excerpt below). The implications for failing the high stakes test are also noted, i.e., failure to graduate and retention.

The front page (K1) of this section has a big blue ribbon with the label "Annual School Ratings" and the following teaser:

SCORING SCHOOLS: Academic performance in Texas is measured by the TAKS, a test with high stakes for your child. How well students perform on the test determines if they graduate and, in some grades, if they get promoted. Check inside to see how your school compares with others in the Houston area.

1,160 Schools listed in this report card.

984,488 Students enrolled."
The newspaper described the 2004 School Ratings as follows (Page K2):

Schools are rated by the Texas Education Agency. The ratings are based largely on results from the TAKS, given to students in grades 3-11, though dropout and completion rates are a factor in secondary schools. The test scores and dropout rates are broken down by ethnic subgroups -- African American, Hispanic and Anglo -- as well as by low-income students. Schools are rated according to how well the lowest-performing student group does [my emphasis]. Schools are rated exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable or academically unacceptable.

At first glance, it is clear that home builders take the "cake"-their ads are not only in full color; they also occupy the most amount of advertisement space. Their ad-space purchasing power is obvious. Of the 8,976 square inches of newsprint in the 2004 REPORT CARD section, 30.73% or 2,758 square inches was devoted to advertising space. Almost 80% (or 2,201 square inches) of all advertisement space was purchased by home builders. There were 15 separate advertisements by the home builders, and almost one-half or 7 of these advertisements specifically mentioned area school districts. Five of these 7 advertisements had visual images related to schooling. These ads depicted a teacher, children, families, the school bus, a globe, the computer, and the apple as representative of symbols of schooling. There were 11 separate advertisements by parochial schools, but they only accounted for 108 sq inches of advertisement space. Nevertheless, parochial schools came in second in number of advertisements after home builders. There was one advertisement by public

One advertisement in particular seemed to have been carefully positioned in the 34 page spread: Richmond American Homes (Page K3, Full page, Color).

This advertisement that starts with "Richomd American is proud to build in ten of the area's most highly acclaimed ISDs. . ." perhaps carries higher advertisement value than others. This ad occupies prime space-page K3 which is the right panel of newspaper--and is to the right of page K2 (left panel of newspaper) where the "Honor roll schools" are listed by district and school name:
26 elementary schools in 12 districts

02 middle schools in 01 district

03 high schools in 03 districts

Page K2's headline is "Honor roll schools" and starts with the following text:

"Thirty-one Houston-area schools made this year's Honor Roll, which recognizes schools that significantly outperform other schools with similar demographics.

The schools are honored by the Austin-based Texas Business Coalition and the National Center for Educational Accountability or Just for the Kids, which analyzes educational data.

Schools named to the Honor Roll not only do well academically but they have outperformed other schools with similar demographics over a three year period.

In other words, affluent suburban schools are compared with affluent suburban schools and low-income inner city schools are compared with similar schools in other parts of the state."

Only 2 (one of which included an email address) of the 41 advertisements did not include a web-address for the sponsor. Of the 2 that did not include a web-address, one included an email address.

Some Excerpts from Advertisement Text related to Public Schools [Bold emphasis added by me]

1) Cinco Ranch by Newland Communities (Page K8, Half page, Color)

"Cinco Ranch makes the grade from pre-k to college.
First-class education is a top priority at Cinco Ranch where residents have access to highly-ranked institutions including the Katy Independent School District, the University of Houston System and the Houston Community College System. Nine on-site schools offer an outstanding instructional program with facilities, equipment and materials that are among the best in the state.

For the 13th year in a row, Katy ISD was named one of the nation's most sought after school districts by School Match, a nationwide school information service. Home to a University of Houston's satellite campus, Cinco Ranch offers its residents more than 30 bachelor's and master's degrees while Houston Community College-Northwest has two major area campuses. Adding in a growing number of private schools and preschools, it's easy to see why education is A+ okay at Cinco Ranch."

2) Eagle Springs by Newland Communities (Page K12, Half page, Color)

"In Eagle Springs, our schools provide a solid foundation for learning from the elementary to college level. Eagle Springs is proud to be part of the highly-acclaimed Humble Independent School District, a leader among Houston area districts.

Eagle Springs students attend some of the most highly-regarded campuses in Humble ISD all located within three miles of the community. College-bound students have access to Kingwood College with three locations in the Humble area.

With access to limitless educational opportunities, it's easy to see why our schools, become your schools."

3) Princeton Classic Homes and Legend Homes (Page K26, Color)

"Buy a quality home and receive an exemplary school district. Cy-Fair ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Humble ISD, Katy ISD, Montgomery ISD."

— Tirupalavanam Ganesh
work in progress



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